• Why Goal-Setting isn’t Enough to Motivate Lasting Changes in Behavior

  • by McKenna Meyer

Goals have always been fundamental targets when it comes to making behavior changes. Say you want to lose weight, improve your diet, your exercise, your sleep, or decrease stress. You go about this change by setting goals that are often adjusted once you realize that your overly optimistic expectations failed to account for the delicious slice of cake you “shared” at a friend’s birthday or the girl scout cookies you bought from your grandchildren on the off chance that Tagalongs changed their famous recipe –they haven’t.

While it’s nothing new to say that goals are important, an intriguing article by Michelle Segar breaks goals down into three components that explain why we rely so heavily on goals when making a behavior change.


Goals consist of three components: focal goal, subordinate goal, superordinate goal. The way these sub-goals are structured is that the focal goal represents what we commonly misconceive as the only goal –it is what you are trying to achieve. The focal goal is your concrete behavior change (ie: improve your diet). The subordinate level goal is the how –how will you achieve your focal goal –how will you improve your diet? In this example the subordinate goal could be making sure that fruits and vegetables occupy more than half of your plate at meals. Or substituting whole wheat, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, fish) for foods containing trans-fats and refined sugar (soft drinks, shortening, canned soups). Finally, and most importantly, the super-ordinate goal gets its name because it defines why you have set your focal goal.


But it doesn’t’ stop there.

While breaking down goals into these components (focal, subordinate, superordinate) to define the what, how, and why of your behavior change is certainly helpful in mapping out a change in behavior, there’s more to it. Studies have shown that superordinate goals can have different results depending on whether or not the goals are self-enhancement or self-trandscendent goals. Self-enhancement goals can be categorized as success, wealth, and prestige while self-trandscendent goals are based on love, connection, and relationships. While both types of superordinate goals get results, it is the self-trandscendent goals that have been proven to lead to sustained behavior change.


In the study I have cited in this post, Segar studied the effect of goals on exercise in mid-life women. She found that women who engaged in an exercise program and were motivated by physical appearance stopped exercising after the study period was over, while women who exercised with the superordinate goal of enriching their quality of life saw sustained exercise and better health.


So what does this have to do with reverse mortgages?

As a financial advisory program it is our purpose to understand what our clients value. According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 50% of American adults list having adequate retirement savings as their top financial goal in 2014. Through conversations with licensed experts and a counseling session we are able to learn what is meaningful to your retirement. While our surface level goal may be to help you pay off an existing mortgage and administer loans that allow you to pay for necessary home improvements, we tailor our reverse mortgage program to the retirement goals of each individual client as we strive to provide you with the fullest quality of life in your retirement years.